The February 16th, 2016, State Water Resources Control Board meeting was a momentous day for the Board, the Division of Drinking Water, water justice advocates, and all the communities that struggle to access safe, affordable drinking water. State Water Board members voted unanimously in support of the Resolution to adopt the Human Right to Water as a core value and to direct its implementation at the State Water Board.
The State of California adopted the Human Right to Water (Water Code 106.3) in 2012 to recognize that "every human being has the right to safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water adequate for human consumption, cooking, and sanitary purposes." The Human Right to Water extends to all Californians, including vulnerable and marginalized individuals, groups, and communities in rural, tribal, and urban areas.
Still, much work is left to be done to implement drinking water solutions in the hundreds of communities across California that lack access to safe, affordable water. The State Water Board’s adoption of the resolution four years after the passage of Water Code 106.3 serves to reaffirm the human right to water as a core value and top board priority and provide guidance to Board staff and the Regional Water Quality Control Boards as they implement the law.
CWC's Laurel Firestone and AGUA Coalition Member Sandra Garcia joined several ally organizations including the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, Clean Water Action, Vern Goehring on behalf of Food and Water Watch, Sierra Club California and others to speak in support of the Resolution. Sandra Garcia spoke of her struggles achieving the Human Right to Water as a low-income farmworker from the community of Poplar. She spoke of the well that her community has been forced to close due to nitrate contamination and of the fear that contaminated water will once again come from her faucet given Poplar's extreme vulnerability to nitrate contamination. Sandra explained to the Board members the burden of having to pay for clean, bottled water in addition to her tap water to do basic things like cook or drink. Sandra's story of the lack of access to safe, reliable, and affordable water is unfortunately shared by hundreds of thousands of other residents in the Central Valley.
State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus concisely summarized the importance of the Resolution towards the end of the meeting's discussion, saying, "The Human Right to Water statute means something. It wasn't sending a Hallmark card to communities who are out of clean, safe, and affordable water. It was supposed to give them hope. But, it didn't give us a lot of tools to do it. There are tools we simply don't have to make this happen, and so the Resolution, I think, is a modest way of saying, 'keep this front of mind in all we do.' "
Watch the full meeting here! (Human Right to Water Agenda Item begins at approximately 4:25:00)